By Christina Rice

Maryville youth have been quenching their thirst for emergency crisis involvement with basic firefighting training through the youth program Fire Explorers, which is expanding this year.

Those participating in the Fire Explorers program are, front: Maryville Fire Chief Phil Rickabaugh, Volunteer Firefighter Matt Johnson, Hunter Johnson, Wyatt Walker, Tobin Cordell and Volunteer Firefighter Scott Daniels; back: Karlie Dunlap, Cole Daniels, Brayden Beattie and Tyler Marriott. Not pictured: Aston Coulter and Kalvin Rawson.

The program has seen a lot of interest in its first year of operation, with nine youth regularly attending the bi-monthly Monday meetings. Program coordinators, Matt Johnson and John Carr, wanted to expand the program and offer youth throughout Nodaway County the same opportunity.

The Fire Explorers, which meets in Maryville at the fire department, is an opportunity for youth ages 14 to 18 to learn about firefighting.

The Fire Explorer program trains youth to become future active firefighters. Throughout the year, the students are trained in several topics including safety, ventilation and breathing apparatuses.

While the youth did not go on active fire runs, they trained alongside current firefighters, completing the same basic training requirements such as getting on the appropriate gear in under two minutes and working the water hoses. They learned how to test hoses, change fire detectors, check air packs and more.

Maryville Fire Chief Phil Rickabaugh said one of the goals for starting the explorer post was to ignite the curiosity of the youth. He hopes the group may become a recruitment tool for the volunteer fire department and emergency disaster management team on Northwest Missouri State University’s campus. The fire department leaders want youth to develop leadership and responsibility skills.

Rickabaugh stated that he hopes in the future the Maryville Fire Department can help fund the program from its budget.

“I’m proud of the young members that started with the program. It says a lot about the young men and women and the leadership of Matt and John to keep their interest. It’s hard to do. We are seeing a steady growth,” Rickabaugh said.

At the age of 18, youth can become official volunteer firefighters. Volunteer firefighters need to complete basic training and attend department trainings held twice a month.

“I like the fact you can go through and have all the training done by the time you are old enough to be a responder. I’ve always wanted to be a first responder. My family has experience being responders,” Karlie Dunlap, fire explorer, said.

The Explorers will also begin collecting US flags after July 4. They will dispose of them properly and respectfully and the fire department will have new replacement US flags available for a donation.

In July, the Maryville Fire Department and the Nodaway County Fire Explorers plan to host an open house for the public, with the date to be determined later.